Sunset Park is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, home to a large immigrant population. Public School 24 - the Dual Language School for International Studies - is located in Sunset Park and teaches more than 700 pre-kindergarten to 5th grade students. Nearly half of PS 24’s students are enrolled in dual language classrooms, in which all subjects are taught in both English and Spanish.
PS 24 became involved with the Community Learning Exchange in May 2008, first attending a CLE gathering in South Texas with a team made up of administrators, teachers and parents. Educators at PS 24 were struggling with communicating with parents and wanted to find a better way to connect with the families of students.
“The challenges for us when we first attended were trying to build relationships between parents and the school,” said Tamara Estrella, PS 24 community associate.
“It was something we were lacking. We were not clicking or connecting. Over the years, we’ve learned so much from other groups in the community. It’s helped us involve the parents in our school.”
Sharing stories is an important concept within the Community Learning Exchange, and it played a pivotal role for PS 24 as the school began to build stronger relationships with parents. The CLE helped team members see that each person has a unique story to tell and experiences to learn from. Simply asking, “What’s your story?” is the first step in developing mutual trust and respect.
“Before, the PTA or organizations like it didn’t exist at the school,” said Tamara. “It was a struggle to find parents to take on a leadership role, volunteer time and represent other parents. It just was not happening at all. Year after year, it was a struggle.”
This dynamic started to shift when PS 24 made it a priority to identify and address the specific needs of parents in the community and share with them the social-emotional learning concepts that are core to the school’s curriculum. The school now hosts regular workshops, offers ESL classes and educational assistance for parents and has seen a noticeable difference in parent participation. As parents feel more comfortable at the school and get to know staff and other parents, they gain a greater sense of belonging and form a stronger community.
“Through the work we’ve been doing – workshops with parents, sharing stories, building trust - we are trying to be a resource for them and not just their kids,” said Tamara.
“There’s a big cultural component. Many parents defer to the school and think teachers know best, out of respect. Communicating that your voice matters was important. You have needs? OK, how can we help?”
PS 24 now has elections for positions on the PTA. This year, four parents wanted to be president, and parents are making an effort to turn out to elect their leaders. One mother is even a representative on a parents’ council at the district level.
Over the years, PS 24 has sent teams to several different CLEs and hosted a gathering in July 2012, called, “Teach While Learning, Learn While Teaching.”
Participants at the Brooklyn CLE in July 2012
The CLE focused on the idea that teaching and learning are inherently intertwined and that we can all be both teachers and learners. The PS 24 team used Sunset Park to emphasize the importance of place-based learning, exploring the neighborhood and encouraging participants to share stories. PS 24 was able to share the school’s successes to teach others, as well as learn from the experiences of other schools and organizations.
PS 24 plans to stay involved with the Community Learning Exchange, maintaining relationships with other CLE leaders.
“We’re part of that original family,” said Tamara. “We’ve developed great relationships through the CLE. We can reach out with questions and challenges, and we’ve become friends with people we’ve met. It’s a great network.”
Interested in opportunities to be a change agent in your community? Learn more about a new fellowship opportunity from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network.